Rapper, songwriter, poet and multi-instrumentalist, Khemist is a Philadelphia-bred artist and musical savant beloved as a bonafide lyrical force. Hailing from the city’s Logan Valley, Khemist is an extraterrestrial talent endowed with the hawkish ability to see the streets and set the Dickensian conditions of his formative years to music. Plied with eloquence and empathy, his catalog is punctuated by the monotone delivery and rough-hewn exterior he developed surviving a charmed but bittersweet life amidst the blighted haunts, brutalist architecture and cold shoulders of a hardscrabble, post-industrial city.
Incited by the decision to stop speaking as a child, Khemist’s career as journeyman lyricist began at a local playground, when he darted to retrieve a loose ball. That led to a fortuitous encounter with a man facing certain death.
“I didn’t even start talking in school until I went to high school. My whole middle school experience, I didn’t talk at all. I went to the park at Barrett playground. The ball bounced behind the rec and I went to retrieve it and saw this man just bleeding out –– lying there. Me and my man looked for a second, then some oldhead came and told us to move. He told us not to say anything so we never said nothing. We went back to playing ball. I still don’t know what happened to that guy. After that I didn’t talk in school from fifth to eighth grade.” – Khemist
Taking the instruction to keep quiet heart, Khemist applied the directive to his entire life. Robbed of his innocence in that split second, he traded conversation for self-reliance, an extensive vocabulary and razor sharp observational skill. In a death he never quite saw but cannot unsee –– in the subsequent deaths of friends lost to the streets and the American carceral system –– he found desensitization to violence and duty as a voice for the voiceless. Painstaking attention to detail in relating the lives of an oft discarded segment of society has enabled Khemist to humanize hardened individuals, illuminate the darkest corners of his city and validate the duality of his own existence as both a bruiser and a bard.
A former workshop leader for the Philadelphia Youth Poetry Movement, Khemist cut his teeth writing poetry, listening to The Come Up Show with DJ Cosmic Kev, watching Def Poetry Jam and battle rap DVD’s. He cites Sonia Sanchez, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Black Ice, Mums Da Schemer, Sonny Patterson, Lauryn Hill, Ursula Rucker, Nas, Toni Morrison, Robert Browning, Nicki Giovanni and Octavia Butler as major influences.
Adding his two cents to the rap canon, Khemist first made waves with the Puzzle Pieces Mixtape. He followed with Death 2 Wack Rappers, hosted by Black Thought and the Khemist x Aktivemixtape, featuring DJ Aktive. Khemist’s spoken word project Lornda & Poems is a heartfelt ode to his grandmother Lornda Pack. Virginia radio fixture and Pusha T affiliate DJ Rick Geez joined Khemist on Scrap Metal. Written and recorded in one day, All In A Day’s Work dials up the lyrical showmanship of Philadelphia rap lore. Khemist later connected with Zaytona on Wolves. After countless hours logged in the studio, Khemist’s forthcoming Khemtrails EP and impending full-length studio album are the culmination of his previous releases.
Recording with dedicated producers Micah Forsyth and Anwar Marshall (bka DYAD), Khemist graduated from spoken word poetry and marathon freestyle rap to pick up a guitar at the age of twenty-two. His willingness to embrace discomfort facilitated substantial artistic growth and liberated him to become more than an emcee. Pairing lyrical prowess with diligent musicianship, he has methodically developed a sound that accurately reflects an encyclopedic knowledge of black American musical folkways and the vast, ambitious nature of his progressive sonic ideals. It is this music that he believes to be the most important of his life. Like Khemist, this is not just rap.
“This is by far the most honest music I’ve ever made. Being introspective, and trying new things that I may have been hesitant to do earlier in my career –– like experimenting with and ultimately growing to love my voice. Being around the musicians I’m around has encouraged me to take more ownership over each component of the music I’m making. I feel like the embargo has been lifted. I’m making fewer calls to involve outside collaborators. It feels amazing. I’m not settling for versions of ideas that don’t fit exactly what I want to do. I feel like a god –– being able to create to the fullest. Because I’m more tuned into the universal law and the metaphysical movement of the universe, and what I’ve been doing all along –– I may not have noticed at first but I had been speaking it into existence and living in my purpose. I was fortunate enough to know at a young age what I wanted. I have wanted the same thing for over a decade. This began after my period of silence. Sometimes silence can get so loud, you have to quiet the silence. I found time to think in between the loud, violent, difficult periods. That developed something in me that I’ve been able to nurture to create some amazing shit.” – Khemist